Dr Prabhushankara, along with many greats of the Kannada literary world. Prabhushankara is to the between Prof U R Ananamurthy and my father, J R Lakshmana Rao
(Photographed at the funeral of the poet laureate, Pu Ti Na)
Dr Prabhushankara, a great Kannada scholar passed away recently. He was the director of the Kuvempu Kannada Adhyayana Samsthe (Institute of Kannada Studies) and Prasaaraanaga (Publications Division) of the University of Mysore. He was a writer of note, acclaimed translator and scholar
What follows may be an odd way of remembering a man who passed away recently - by recalling his jokes and his sense of humour and spreading a little laughter. I am sure, if he could see this happen, he would approve.
Dr Prabhushankara was a frequent visitor to our home as he was a close friend of my father. He almost always walked in with, “Lakshmana raayrE... “, addressing my father, as a prelude to recounting a joke or a real incident with great humour, wit and turn of phrase and make us all laugh. He himself laughed heartily which was always a pleasure to watch.
One of the earliest jokes of his that I remember is this. He had a long association with the Ramakrishna Math. And to the best of my knowledge, he was a firm believer in god. I say this because he did not wear his religion or belief on his sleeve. But these should form the background to what follows.
"Lakshmana raayre, I have proof that God understands English but, not very well", he said one day and continued. “When we were young we prayed every day with the words ‘give us this day our daily bread’. He granted our wish. But, it is bread for breakfast, daily!”
My father once went to the Ramakrishna Ashram for lunch with Dr Prabhushankara. The lunch was sumptuous and rich, with expensive ingredients - ghee, milk, saffron, almonds, cashew nuts and so on. After lunch, my father pulled his leg - "the Ramakrishna Mission preaches high thinking and simple living. Look at that lunch! Do you call that simple living?" He was unfazed. He retorted, "I can't help it if you misinterpret that statement. We do exactly what we preach. High thinking and SIMPLE living" - the latter half was said with an intonation and a wave of the hand that meant "just living it up".
Such irreverent humour is to be cherished especially now when the slightest (imaginary or otherwise) light-hearted or derogatory reference to matters religious or spiritual has the potential to become a Weapon of Mass Distraction. The politics of hurt sentiments.
Khushwant Singh, the iconoclastic author, among other things, was invited by the University of Mysore for a talk. Dr Prabhushankara went to Bangalore to receive him and bring him to Mysore. In the preamble to his talk, Khushwant Singh said something like this: "I had a wonderful drive from Bangalore. The greenery on either side of the road was exhilarating. I had the delightful company of Dr Prabhushankara who told me several Sardarji jokes that even I had not heard before". This can give you an idea of how much he loved humour.
Dr Prabhushankara once expounded on a theory of the origin of the universe. “In the beginning, there was Tamizh. God saw this and thought, “here is such a rich and beautiful language but, no one to speak it. So, he created the earth and put people on it so that there would be someone to speak it.” This was his way of poking fun at the justifiable pride the Tamizhs have about their language.
There was a Kannada drama being staged at the Maharaja's College Centenary Hall. Dr Prabhushankara was seated in the front row. The screen parted and the stage lights grew brighter as the hall lights dimmed. One stage could be seen a street with the front of a house. The name board of the house was visible. It read "Jnaana Villa". Read in Kannada, as a single word, this means no knowledge or a nincompoop. The intention of the playwright was to make fun of the middle class’ fancy for English - with such absurd consequences. Dr Prabhushankara's voice could be heard clearly, "Hey! This looks like the logo of the university".
His wit and wisdom, large-heartedness, and critical, fearless scholarship will be missed dearly.